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Wednesday, May 24, 2000
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Hoekstra votes against China PNTR as House approves
Concerns over making pact permanent, religious persecution and human rights key
WASHINGTON – Congressman Pete Hoekstra today voted against H.R. 4444, a bill to establish Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) with China. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 237-197, with 164 Republicans and 73 Democrats supporting the measure. The following is Hoekstra’s statement explaining his decision:
Trust, but Verify
As Congress approached this vote on establishing Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) with the People’s Republic of China, I believe it was important to clearly establish what this vote and this agreement are really about and what they are not about. Only after doing so could I determine what the appropriate position should be.
First, this was not a vote about whether the U.S. will continue to trade with China, as some would have us believe. Supporters of PNTR use charged words such as "isolationist" and "protectionist" to describe those who are opposed to PNTR. This is incorrect and unfair. Regardless of the outcome of this vote, U.S. tariffs on goods imported from China to the U.S. will continue to be minimal or nonexistent. This is hardly "protectionist" under any definition of the word. I have been and remain committed to free trade and trade with China, as my previous votes in favor of annual renewal of Normal Trade Relations (NTR) with China will attest.
Second, this was not a vote to set tariff rates between the U.S. and China, or to address the fear that other countries or regions – notably Japan or Europe – will receive lower tariffs on their exports to China to the U.S. Our bilateral trade agreement with China, set in 1979, says that, "For the purpose of promoting economic and trade relations between their two countries, the Contracting Parties [the U.S. and China] agree to accord firms, companies, and corporations, and trading organizations of the other Party treatment no less favorable than is afforded to any third country or region." This means that China must continue to grant the U.S. the lowest tariff level that it grants any other country.
Third, this vote was not about China joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). China’s membership in the WTO will be decided by completing all the steps involved in the WTO accession process. If China meets these requirements, it will become a member of the WTO regardless of the outcome of this vote.
So, what was this vote about? It was about whether the U.S. government will discontinue its long-standing process of annually reviewing our country’s trading relationship with the People’s Republic of China. Prior to this vote, Congress had agreed to renew this relationship for 20 consecutive years. Throughout this time, our trade with China has grown from $4.8 billion in 1980 to $17.8 billion in 1989 to $94.9 billion in 1999. At the same time our trade deficit with China increased from $6.2 billion in 1989 to $68.7 billion in 1999. It appears obvious that this trading relationship has fostered economic ties and an economic relationship with China. Today’s vote was about whether we should make that relationship permanent or continue our practice of reviewing the relationship annually. I believe there are many reasons – falling in the general areas of economic, moral and national security – to continue evaluating this agreement every year, rather than supporting the Clinton Administration’s plan to make it permanent.
In the economic area, it is clear that our relationship with China is important – after all, the U.S. has the world’s largest economy and China has the world’s largest population. But China has not always been a good economic partner for the U.S. We need look no further than our own apple growers and processors in West Michigan, who have been devastated by China’s practice of "dumping" (that is, selling well under the production costs) apple juice concentrate in our country. Many of these small family businesses have been driven into bankruptcy or are in severe financial straits because of China’s unfair competition. Finally, after five years of the practice, the U.S. International Trade Commission found China guilty of illegal dumping and plan to impose a 52 percent tariff on apple juice concentrate imported from China. Shame on us for waiting so long – but I do not believe the issue would have been resolved any faster if a WTO dispute resolution process had been available.
Without a doubt, some of my biggest concerns about China have to do with how the ruling Communist regime persecutes its citizens for their religious beliefs and how the regime deals with other human rights of its citizens. Clearly, the Chinese government seeks to restrict religious practices to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship. In some areas, security authorities have used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention and even beatings and torture to harass and intimidate Christians and other religious followers. Recently, the Chinese government has engaged in a campaign against followers of a religious sect called Falun Gong, taking actions against the followers ranging from prolonged detention to being expelled from school or losing jobs to even beatings and killings. This kind of religious intolerance is unacceptable.
Furthermore, China’s population growth policies, which restrict couples to having only one child and often result in forced abortions and forced sterilization, are well known, as is China’s widespread use of prison labor in slave-like conditions. We also know that China’s policies concerning the freedom of the press, freedom of privacy and use of torture all leave much to be desired. I am concerned that granting China permanent NTR status will remove the opportunity our country has to influence these issues.
Finally, China still poses a large threat to the national security of its neighbors and the United States. I do not think this is an appropriate time for Congress to throw away one of its tools for negotiating with China. One only needs to look at these recent events to be wary of China: Chinese agents stole U.S. nuclear and ballistic missile secrets. The Chinese increased its military budget by nearly 13 percent in the last year and is rapidly upgrading its weapons technology. China continues to make threatening gestures toward the Republic of Taiwan, which it considers to be a "renegade province." These actions do not inspire confidence. In today’s post-Cold War era, China poses one of our nation’s most significant security risks on a variety of fronts. Now is not the time to let down our guard by eliminating one of our negotiating tools.
In conclusion, the decisions we are making on this issue have the potential of having a significant impact on the economic opportunities of our children and grandchildren. I believe that it is appropriate and necessary for Congress to continue to review our country’s trade relationship with China on an annual basis for the foreseeable future. If China addresses the many economic, human rights and military issues, we will revisit that position in the future. However, at this point in time, we must ask ourselves what China has done in the last few years to warrant such a major shift in U.S. policy.
I believe that the U.S. has acted in good faith over the last two decades by granting China Most Favored Nation or Normal Trading Relations status each year, which I have supported. This allows us to have a positive influence on Chinese policy and to modify our relationship with China if circumstances justify it. But throughout the history of China MFN/NTR, we have seen instances religious persecution, the Tiannamen Massacre, the stealing of national security secrets, a rapidly expanding trade deficit and a massive military buildup. Has NTR status improved our relationship with China? Has it improved the lives of the average American or Chinese citizens? Has China earned the trust of the U.S. so much that they have earned Permanent Normal Trade Relation status?
My research and my instincts tell me – NO. It is still appropriate to apply the standard of "Trust, but verify" to this relationship. China deserves nothing less, but nothing more.
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